Zosia Mamet made my freaking life with this passage:
“I have been incredibly blessed with success in my chosen career. I’ve worked my ass off and had the support and encouragement of those around me to keep climbing. But what if tomorrow I decided I was content with the place I’d reached in acting and planned to open a small coffee shop in Vermont? That job wouldn’t necessarily be any easier, but I believe I would be considered less successful. My friends, some of them, would ask me if it was what I really wanted (code for “You’re making a mistake”). My agent would think I was insane, and my family would definitely be confused. And if I didn’t turn my little coffee shop into some world-renowned Magnolia Bakery of the north, if I kept it small and had a happy life, I probably wouldn’t be considered a success at that either, which is ridiculous.
We are so obsessed with “making it” these days we’ve lost sight of what it means to be successful on our own terms. As women we have internalized the idea that every morning we wake up, we have to go for the f—king gold. You can’t just jog; you have to run a triathlon. Having a cup of coffee, reading the paper, and heading to work isn’t enough—that’s settling, that’s giving in, that’s letting them win. You have to wake up, have a cup of coffee, conquer France, bake a perfect cake, take a boxing class, and figure out how you are going to get that corner office or become district supervisor, while also looking damn sexy—but not too sexy, because cleavage is degrading—all before lunchtime. Who in her right mind would want to do that? And who would even be able to?
I think, unfortunately, some of our need to succeed professionally is a by-product of a good thing: feminism. Feminism was meant to empower us as women, to build us up for fighting on male-dominated battlefields. It did that, but it did some other things as well. It gave us female role models like Hillary and Oprah and Beyoncé and in the process implied that mogul-hood should be every woman’s goal. We kept the old male ideas of success: power and money. We need new ones!
A few years ago I was about to make a movie with some friends, a passion project we were doing for love, not money. Then I was offered a spot on a hit TV show—a gig that would have paid more than the entire budget of our film, but it would have meant not doing the film. I told my agent to turn it down, and he couldn’t understand. To him the bigger job and the bigger paycheck were the whole point, but for me the point was to do something I really cared about. I was lucky to have that option, and it felt so right to say, “This is more important to me.”
I hate that we look at women who choose not to run a country as having given up. I get angry that, when a woman decides to hold off on gunning for a promotion because she wants to have a baby, other women whisper that “she’s throwing away her potential.” That is when we’re not supporting our own. Who are we to put such a limited definition on success? The Merriam-Webster dictionary says success is “the correct or desired result of an attempt.” But you get to decide what you attempt. If you get off running a global hair care empire, more power to you, but if working as a hairdresser somewhere within that empire brings you joy, then that should be just as admirable. You shouldn’t feel like you’re letting down the team.
The solution, I think, is to ask ourselves what we actually want—each of us personally—and stop putting so much pressure on one another. Success isn’t about winning everything; it’s about achieving your dream, be that teaching middle school or flying jets. And no matter what we as individual women want, no matter what our goals, we have to support one another. Because I might actually open a café in Vermont—just a small one, where I make the muffins myself—and I hope you ladies don’t think me any less of a woman for it.”